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Smart ways to beat rate rises and mortgage stress

Smart ways to beat rate rises and mortgage stress

By Andrea Sophocleous
October 2, 2009

Home ownership has long been touted as the great Australian dream, but for many it is an increasingly unattainable one . Sky-rocketing property prices have turned Australia into one of the most expensive housing markets in the world, expanding the size of the average mortgage and making repayments a monthly challenge.

Lower interest rates over the past 12 months have eased the pressure of repayments for home owners lucky to have kept their jobs, but unfortunately for some , the lowest rates in 40 years have not translated to ease of mind.

In the past year 55,362 families had to use mortgage payment holidays and hardship provisions offered by banks as they struggled to meet their mortgage repayments. In the first six months of this year, 3 , 260 houses were repossessed by banks in NSW alone, while in Victoria 3 , 068 homes were repossessed in the 12 months to June.

Ian Graham, chief executive officer of mortgage insurance company QBE Lenders’ Mortgage Insurance, says the incidence of hardship requests spiked in October last year, at the start of the global financial crisis, and increased again in May following an awareness campaign by the F ederal G overnment, reminding people of the availability of hardship provisions.

“The rise in hardship requests reflects the increase in unemployment,” Graham says.

“Ninety-five percent of all hardship requests are deserving, and the banks and QBE support them.”

Falling behind in your repayments or suffering mortgage stress (where more than 30 percent of your income is directed towards repayments) is a scary scenario for any family or individual, but being aware of your options can minimise the stress. Your lender can help you identify what options are available to you – many financial institutions offer a range of hardship provision options such as the postponement of mortgage repayments for up to 12 months, extending the term of the home loan, reducing repayments to cover the interest only, and the waiving of fees.

Extending the term of your loan will reduce the repayments you have to make, but it is worth noting you will end up paying a lot more interest in the long run. If you are considering this option, check whether it is easy to revert to a shorter term once you are back on your feet.

Another option is to switch to a ‘no-frills’ home loan with your lender, which could allow you access to a lower interest rate through a basic variable home loan. Yet another option is to refinance your home loan and switch lenders altogether, to a home loan with a more favourable variable interest.

For example, if your home loan is currently with one of the major four banks and you are paying a standard variable rate of 5.74 percent p.a, you could pocket the savings by switching to C ommonwealth Bank -owned Bank w est with a variable interest rate of 4.87 percent p.a.

Rates will vary depending upon the amount of money you want to borrow. H owever, remember to factor in costs associated with refinancing, such as exit fees from your existing lender and establishment fees from the new bank.

With interest rates tipped to increase as early as next week, many more families may find the need to use hardship provisions. Some economists are forecasting a rate rise by the Reserve Bank of 0.25 percentage points in both November and December. A 0.25 percent increase on the average mortgage of approximately $350,000 would add about $50 a month to repayments.

Graham thinks we’re unlikely to see a rise this year, but argues home owners should be prepared for multiple rises early next year. “The current interest rate settings are emergency settings. The Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens has been quite clear that rates are going to return to normal levels – which is what they would have been going into the global financial crisis,” he says.

“Interest rates dropped by about 2 percent , so we expect rates to rise 2 percent above current levels over the next 12 to 18 months.”

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Learn more about home loans

What happens to my home loan when interest rates rise?

If you are on a variable rate home loan, every so often your rate will be subject to increases and decreases. Rate changes are determined by your lender, not the Reserve Bank of Australia, however often when the RBA changes the cash rate, a number of banks will follow suit, at least to some extent. You can use RateCity cash rate to check how the latest interest rate change affected your mortgage interest rate.

When your rate rises, you will be required to pay your bank more each month in mortgage repayments. Similarly, if your interest rate is cut, then your monthly repayments will decrease. Your lender will notify you of what your new repayments will be, although you can do the calculations yourself, and compare other home loan rates using our mortgage calculator.

There is no way of conclusively predicting when interest rates will go up or down on home loans so if you prefer a more stable approach consider opting for a fixed rate loan.

How do I calculate monthly mortgage repayments?

Work out your mortgage repayments using a home loan calculator that takes into account your deposit size, property value and interest rate. This is divided by the loan term you choose (for example, there are 360 months in a 30-year mortgage) to determine the monthly repayments over this time frame.

Over the course of your loan, your monthly repayment amount will be affected by changes to your interest rate, plus any circumstances where you opt to pay interest-only for a period of time, instead of principal and interest.

What are the different types of home loan interest rates?

A home loan interest rate is used to calculate how much you’ll pay the lender, usually annually, above the amount you borrow. It’s what the lenders charge you for them lending you money and will impact the total amount you’ll pay over the life of your home loan. 

Having understood what are home loan rates in general, here are the two types you usually have with a home loan:

Fixed rates

These interest rates remain constant for a specific period and are a good option if you’re a first-time buyer or if you’re looking for a fixed monthly repayment. One possible downside of a fixed rate is that it may be higher than a variable rate. Also, you don’t benefit from any lowering of interest rates in the market. On the flip side, if rates go up, your rate won’t change, possibly saving you money.

Variable rates

With variable interest rates, the lender can change them at any time. This change can be based on economic conditions or other reasons. Changes in interest rates could be beneficial if your monthly repayment decreases but can be a problem if it increases. Variable interest rates offer several other benefits often not available with fixed rate home loans like redraw and offset facilities and free extra repayments. 

When does Commonwealth Bank charge an early exit fee?

When you take out a fixed interest home loan with the Commonwealth Bank, you’re able to lock the interest for a particular period. If the rates change during this period, your repayments remain unchanged. If you break the loan during the fixed interest period, you’ll have to pay the Commonwealth Bank home loan early exit fee and an administrative fee.

The Early Repayment Adjustment (ERA) and Administrative fees are applicable in the following instances:

  • If you switch your loan from fixed interest to variable rate
  • When you apply for a top-up home loan
  • If you repay over and above the annual threshold limit, which is $10,000 per year during the fixed interest period
  • When you prepay the entire outstanding loan balance before the end of the fixed interest duration.

The fee calculation depends on the interest rates, the amount you’ve repaid and the loan size. You can contact the lender to understand more about what you may have to pay. 

What are the features of home loans for expats from Westpac?

If you’re an Australian citizen living and working abroad, you can borrow to buy a property in Australia. With a Westpac non-resident home loan, you can borrow up to 80 per cent of the property value to purchase a property whilst living overseas. The minimum loan amount for these loans is $25,000, with a maximum loan term of 30 years.

The interest rates and other fees for Westpac non-resident home loans are the same as regular home loans offered to borrowers living in Australia. You’ll have to submit proof of income, six-month bank statements, an employment letter, and your last two payslips. You may also be required to submit a copy of your passport and visa that shows you’re allowed to live and work abroad.

When do mortgage payments start after settlement?

Generally speaking, your first mortgage payment falls due one month after the settlement date. However, this may vary based on your mortgage terms. You can check the exact date by contacting your lender.

Usually your settlement agent will meet the seller’s representatives to exchange documents at an agreed place and time. The balance purchase price is paid to the seller. The lender will register a mortgage against your title and give you the funds to purchase the new home.

Once the settlement process is complete, the lender allows you to draw down the loan. The loan amount is debited from your loan account. As soon as the settlement paperwork is sorted, you can collect the keys to your new home and work your way through the moving-in checklist.

Does the Home Loan Rate Promise apply to discounted interest rate offers, such as honeymoon rates?

No. Temporary discounts to home loan interest rates will expire after a limited time, so they aren’t valid for comparing home loans as part of the Home Loan Rate Promise.

However, if your home loan has been discounted from the lender’s standard rate on a permanent basis, you can check if we can find an even lower rate that could apply to you.

How long should I have my mortgage for?

The standard length of a mortgage is between 25-30 years however they can be as long as 40 years and as few as one. There is a benefit to having a shorter mortgage as the faster you pay off the amount you owe, the less you’ll pay your bank in interest.

Of course, shorter mortgages will require higher monthly payments so plug the numbers into a mortgage calculator to find out how many years you can potentially shave off your budget.

For example monthly repayments on a $500,000 over 25 years with an interest rate of 5% are $2923. On the same loan with the same interest rate over 30 years repayments would be $2684 a month. At first blush, the 30 year mortgage sounds great with significantly lower monthly repayments but remember, stretching your loan out by an extra five years will see you hand over $89,396 in interest repayments to your bank.

How long can you fix a home loan rate for?

Most lenders should let you fix your interest rate for anywhere between one and five years. While rare, a few lenders may offer fixed rate terms for as long as 10 years.

Fixing your home loan interest rate for a longer term can keep your budgeting fairly straightforward, as you shouldn't have to factor in changes to your mortgage repayments if variable rates change, such as when the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA) changes its rates at its monthly meeting. Additionally, if variable rates rise during your fixed rate term, you can continue to pay the lower fixed rate until the fixed term ends, potentially saving you some money.

Of course, a longer fixed term also means a longer length of time where you may have less flexibility in your home loan repayments. It’s also a longer period where you won’t be able to refinance your mortgage without paying break fees. If variable rates were to fall during this period, you may also be stuck paying a higher fixed rate for a longer period.

How does a mortgage calculator work?

A mortgage calculator is an extremely helpful tool when planning to take out a home loan and working out the costs. Although each mortgage calculator you come across may be slightly different, most will help you estimate how much your repayments will be. The calculator will often also show you the difference in repayments if you repay weekly, monthly or fortnightly. 

To calculate these figures, you’ll be asked to enter a few details. These include the amount you plan to borrow, whether you’re an owner-occupier or an investor, the proposed interest rate and the home loan term. It will also often show you the total interest you’ll be charged and the total amount you’ll repay over the life of the loan.  

Understanding how the mortgage calculator works, helps you to use it to see how different loan amounts, interest rates and terms affect your repayments. This can then help you choose a home loan that you can repay comfortably and save on interest costs. The mortgage calculator lets you compare the benefits and costs of home loans from different lenders to help you make a more informed choice. Use a mortgage calculator to help identify which home loan is most suitable for your requirements and financial situation.

How do you determine which home loan rates/products I’m shown?

When you check your home loan rate, you’ll supply some basic information about your current loan, including the amount owing on your mortgage and your current interest rate.

We’ll compare this information to the home loan options in the RateCity database and show you which home loan products you may be eligible to apply for.

 

What is the average length of a home loan?

Most Aussie lenders offer home loans with a 30-year term, meaning that you should pay back the full loan amount and the interest you owe on the amount in 30 years. 

However, home loans can also have a shorter or longer term. They may be as low as ten years or up to 45 years, depending on the product and lender. 

It’s worth remembering that a longer loan term usually means you’ll end up paying a lot more interest in total, but your scheduled repayments may be more manageable. In contrast, you could opt for a shorter loan term if you are comfortable making large repayments in exchange for paying less interest over the term of the loan.

What is the difference between fixed, variable and split rates?

Fixed rate

A fixed rate home loan is a loan where the interest rate is set for a certain amount of time, usually between one and 15 years. The advantage of a fixed rate is that you know exactly how much your repayments will be for the duration of the fixed term. There are some disadvantages to fixing that you need to be aware of. Some products won’t let you make extra repayments, or offer tools such as an offset account to help you reduce your interest, while others will charge a significant break fee if you decide to terminate the loan before the fixed period finishes.

Variable rate

A variable rate home loan is one where the interest rate can and will change over the course of your loan. The rate is determined by your lender, not the Reserve Bank of Australia, so while the cash rate might go down, your bank may decide not to follow suit, although they do broadly follow market conditions. One of the upsides of variable rates is that they are typically more flexible than their fixed rate counterparts which means that a lot of these products will let you make extra repayments and offer features such as offset accounts.

Split rates home loans

A split loan lets you fix a portion of your loan, and leave the remainder on a variable rate so you get a bet each way on fixed and variable rates. A split loan is a good option for someone who wants the peace of mind that regular repayments can provide but still wants to retain some of the additional features variable loans typically provide such as an offset account. Of course, with most things in life, split loans are still a trade-off. If the variable rate goes down, for example, the lower interest rates will only apply to the section that you didn’t fix.

What is a variable home loan?

A variable rate home loan is one where the interest rate can and will change over the course of your loan. The rate is determined by your lender, not the Reserve Bank of Australia, so while the cash rate might go down, your bank may decide not to follow suit, although they do broadly follow market conditions. One of the upsides of variable rates is that they are typically more flexible than their fixed rate counterparts which means that a lot of these products will let you make extra repayments and offer features such as offset accounts.